There’s no doubt that women are superheroes; we juggle so many roles in life, achieve milestones that shatter societal expectations, and make it all look so effortless. But at what cost to our mental health and well-being?
Just like any superhero, women need moments when they can catch their breath – especially women living in Nigeria where our ‘superhero’ status tends to stifled by certain cultural beliefs, and the general unpredictability of the environment. Oftentimes, this can make many of us feel stressed out.
So how do we unburden ourselves and de-stress to help take care of our mental health? By practicing mindfulness. As a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) specialist, I have seen, firsthand, how the practice of mindfulness helps improve health and quality of life.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.
Practicing mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them —without believing, for instance, that there’s a right or wrong way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past that causes us stress, or imagining the future and getting worried about what isn’t even guaranteed to happen.
In a nutshell, mindfulness can help to quieten the noise. When you practice mindfulness, things and people do not trigger you in the same way. And when you do get triggered – as we are only human – you respond in a calmer way and bounce back quicker. Learning to respond differently can stop the suffering we cause ourselves.
Here are some of the reasons why I believe women should practice mindfulness:
Achieving work-life balance
A lot of women overwork themselves and complain about how they are tired all the time. Practicing mindfulness is all about self-care. Take a break and de-clutter your mind by spending some quiet time focusing on the present moment. It helps to replenish your energy, refreshes your mind, and keeps you focused.
Helps you re-discover your identity
With the hustle and bustle of life and efforts to balance multiple roles as a working-class woman, wife, mom, sister, friend, or other different roles you play, somehow you may have stopped putting yourself first and may have inadvertently become unkind to yourself. Perhaps you even feel guilty about taking time out for yourself; somehow you’ve become lost in all the different roles you play in people’s lives that you begin to feel you’ve lost your original identity. Practicing mindfulness helps you rediscover who you are, and brings peace of mind even in the midst of life’s challenging responsibilities.
Teaches your children to be more compassionate towards you
As moms, we love our kids, but they also need to understand that “mummy is a human being and needs time away sometimes.” As a stay-at-home mom, this is something I tell my kids and they have come to understand and respect that, and in the process, they’ve learned to become more compassionate towards me, and have also come to appreciate “mindful mommy.” They know that when mommy is allowed some space for self-care, she is happier, calmer, and more fun to be with.
Moms, you may have to train your family on this one, because it will probably take them some time to get used to this idea. But it’s so worth it! What could be better than having some guilt-free “me time”?
Mindfulness increases life-span
Stress accelerates aging because it affects our telomeres. According to Harvard Medical School, “the telomeres are the ends of the chromosomes – the structures inside each cell that contain the genes. Over time, the telomeres get shorter. When they get short enough, the cell dies. Chronic stress leads to shorter telomeres, and people with shorter telomeres are at greater risk of several major diseases, including heart disease and some forms of cancer.” Practicing mindfulness helps decrease stress, thus reducing the risk of chronic illness, and increasing our lifespan.
Self-acceptance and true happiness
When you practice mindfulness, your capacity for self-acceptance increases. You no longer strive to measure up to society’s standards of who you should be because you gain a deeper awareness and connection with the true essence of who you are.
As a woman, there is constant external pressure to have it all together (or at least look like you do). As a result, many end up looking good on the outside when in reality, they are falling apart on the inside. Over time, efforts spent keeping up appearances can take a toll on one’s mental health.
Mindfulness gives us the chance to accept and embrace our true identity, and by doing so, we discover genuine happiness. Take a chance on practicing mindfulness – you have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain. If you choose to embark on a mindfulness journey, you can choose to consult with a mindfulness teacher. Just make sure he/she is a certified, properly trained practitioner.
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